Monday, November 19, 2012

'Worst Case Scenario #5' - The Action at Ursensollen, April 14th, 1809

The two screening forces probe for a weakness in their opponent's line.
A couple weeks ago we flew out to Montreal for a short four-day vacation.  On top of lots of great food, fun shopping and some fabulous visits to museums, I also had the great pleasure to meet up with John, Iannick and Nicolas for a Napoleonic game.

A bronze by Vincenzo Vela of Napoleon meditating at St. Helena. Behind him is a painting by Laslett Pott 'Arriving in Front of Moscow' - Weider Collection, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Napoleon's bicorne worn at Borodino. Aso examples of his boots, gloves and shirt - Weider Collection, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

We had been planning this get-together for a few months and in the Tilsit-like preparatory negotiations it was agreed that I'd put on a scenario using my home-brew rules, 'Food for Powder'.

While chatting with the guys online I found that John wanted something historical-based while Iannick preferred a scenario that was fun and challenging (and Nicolas seemed blissfully amenable to anything). So I decided to do something a little different and put together a scenario whose main goal for the combatants was not to get drawn into a pitched battle, but rather conduct a cautious reconnaissance-in-force which could be escalated only if deemed appropriate.

I chose a very small engagement that occurred in the opening days of the 1809 campaign, near a little village called Ursensollen in Bavaria. For each side I wrote up a short preamble describing the central characters, the events leading up to the action, the forces involved and a map of the battlefield.

The French Briefing:

The Austrian Briefing:

Victory Points for Both Sides
+1 point for Identifying Enemy Formations (come within 12")
+2 points for causing an enemy unit to become Spent
+5 points for reaching enemy horizon (12" in from each sides' table edge)

-3 points for having a friendly unit become Spent
-1 point for bringing forward a unit from theTactical Reserve (per unit)

I have to say I was more than a little nervous about the whole affair. While I had chatted with the guys through email and the blogosphere I had never actually met any of them face-to-face. Also, as I was debuting my set of rules to an experienced group of unknown players. I was more than a little worried that they'd not only hate them, but that the scenario would also go pear-shaped and I'd basically find myself wrecking their hard-earned gaming weekend. So, with these paranoid thoughts racing through my mind, I began to have a small case of stage fright as we descended into Montreal.

Well thankfully all my worries were for nothing. You really couldn't meet a better bunch of guys. They were such a pleasure to hang-out with, were incredibly gracious and exercised infinite patience with my stammering and rambling through the game. In short I had a fabulous day out. 

We had a little bit of a late start, but I took my time explaining both the rules and the scenario as I wanted everything to be as clear as possible before the cannonade began. John took command of the French, filling the shoes of General Friant, while Iannick and Nicolas represented the fractious dual Austrian command of Fresnel and Klenau.

The French force stepping off from Kastl with Friant in the lead. The majority of the figures are from  Iannick's beautiful collection of 28mm figures.
At the beginning, both sides had very small screening forces which the players pushed out to see if they could probe and get past their opponents. John advanced aggressively and came very close to punching through the Austrian screen with several squadrons of Chasseurs, but bad luck fouled his plans as some Austrian Jagers managed to crash into square and see off the French probe.

French Chasseurs closing on a battalion of Jagers.
The Austrians unlimbered their 6-pounders and began to punish the approaching French columns but John (Friant) gamely pressed on. The French Chasseurs seeing another opportunity prepared to force their way through, but the Austrians uncharacteristically seized the initiative and ran-up some reinforcements from Ursensollen to stiffen their left flank. Undaunted, the Chasseurs focused their efforts to charge the bolstered Jagers but, in-turn, were taken in the flank by Austrian Uhlans who had forced their way through their own artillery train to come to grips (it was a little generous on the GM's part to allow this but nonetheless it was very cinematic). The clash was decisive and the French cavalry were sent reeling back towards their own lines.

Uhlans advancing with Hussars in support. (These are 'imports' I brought from home)
At around this point both sides brought forward infantry reserves but they chose to shield them from each other's vision by positioning them in dead ground so no intelligence was gained by either side. Very smart.

Just as the Austrian left became more secure due to the efforts of the Uhlans the French began to probe aggressively on the right. A French column pressed back the Austrian screening force of Jagers while one of it's sister battalions began to skirt on the far right flank, advancing towards Ursensollen.

It was around there that we had to stop for the day. The action was still very much up in the air. The Austrians had achieved some rousing local victories but they had not really moved forward towards their objective. The French on the other hand hand had suffered some casualties but were advancing across the entire front and were in a postion where they had a good opportunity to be able to unscreen the Austrian reserves. 

It was a very interesting game and I quite enjoyed watching it all unfold. All of the players did a superb job in keeping to the spirit of the scenario. Neither side wanted to bring up their reserves until they were desperately needed, which gave a very 'napoleonic' feel to the game. I also really liked how they both screened their forces to give nothing away to their opponents' prying eyes - again very characteristic to the period.

Above is a pic of us which I've shamelessly poached from Iannick's fine blog Clash of Empires. Check his blog out as it features many other great shots from the game. (From left to right: Nicolas, John, myself and Iannick)

The rules came off pretty well in the post-game discussions. The guys gave me some great feedback and I think I may have convinced them to try them again in the future. The best part is that I think I've found an excellent reason to have an annual trip to Montreal (as if the food and sights weren't enough)! 

Thanks to John, Iannick and Nicolas for being such great sports. I'm very much looking forward to our next game together. 

(For those who may be interested in taking a look at 'Food for Powder', my plan is to have a playtest version ready for limited release by the end of the Christmas break.)